Biden admin funding controversial efforts to treat conservative groups as radical, watchdog warns
The Biden administration is doling out taxpayer money through an anti-terrorism grant initiative to a university program that has explicitly lumped the Republican Party, as well as Christian and conservative groups, into the same category as Nazis, according to documents shared exclusively with Fox News Digital.
The Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group, obtained documents through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests showing a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program meant to fight terrorism is funding a group whose work has explicitly targeted the American political right. The MRC outlined its findings in a report, arguing what the group found warrants criminal prosecution.
“This terrorism task force is engaged in an active effort to demonize and eliminate Christian, conservative, and Republican organizations using federal taxpayer dollars,” said Brent Bozell, founder and president of the Media Research Center. “What we have uncovered calls for criminal prosecution. The American people need to know those who are abusing their positions in the federal government will be held accountable for their criminal behavior.”
DHS’s Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention Grant Program (TVTP) provides funds to various public, private, and non-profit institutions — such as universities and county governments — “to establish or enhance capabilities to prevent targeted violence and terrorism.” Grant applicants must be based in the U.S. and implement a U.S.-based program.
The Biden administration has awarded 80 grants through the TVTP totaling just under $40 million. The lowest grant was for $85,000, the highest was over $1.1 million, and the median was about $442,000. TVTP grant recipients are prohibited from engaging in viewpoint discrimination, according to DHS.
Started by the Obama administration under a different name, the TVTP was broadened and revamped by the Biden administration with a new focus on violent extremism and white supremacy. DHS named one of its TVTP goals as “media literacy and online critical thinking initiatives,” which many grantees listed as the mission of their projects.
One such grantee was the University of Dayton for its PREVENTS-OH program, which DHS awarded $352,109 to “draw on the expertise of the University of Dayton faculty” to fight “domestic violence extremism and hate movements.”
The university’s grant application submitted to DHS linked in a footnote to a controversial Dayton conference where an academic researcher presented a chart titled the “Pyramid of Far-Right Radicalization.”
Among the organizations and movements displayed on the pyramid were the Republican Party, the Heritage Foundation, the American Conservative Union, Fox News, Breitbart News, the National Rifle Association, PragerUniversity, Tea Party Patriots, the Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement, the pro-police Blue Lives Matter movement, and the Christian Broadcasting Network.
The pyramid also included hate groups like The Base, a neo-Nazi paramilitary group, and the Daily Stormer, a pro-Nazi publication, seemingly comparing them to mainstream organizations such as the GOP.
In 2021, the University of Dayton held a seminar called “Extremism, Rhetoric, and Democratic Precarity” featuring several experts on extremism who compared mainstream conservatives to genocidal extremists.
The university’s grant application to DHS linked to video of the conference, describing it as indicative of the university’s work “to assess regional needs and capacities for violent extremism prevention” and directing government evaluators to view it for more information.
One speaker at the conference, University of Cincinnati researcher Michael Loadenthal, presented the “Pyramid of Far-Right Radicalization,” portraying it as an accurate depiction of the “modern far-right” and extremism in America.
According to Loadenthal, the MRC is “misinterpreting and misrepresenting” the diagram as well as his role with it. He sent Fox News Digital a full copy of the image, which included text underneath the pyramid describing the bottom tier with the GOP, the NRA, and the Heritage Foundation as “mainstream conservatism.”
“The chart is meant to show that what is termed ‘the right’ is not monolithic and that some individuals travel to a path of radicalization, beginning with more mainstream sources,” said Loadenthal. “This point is not controversial nor is it deterministic; it is NOT meant to imply that engaging with level 1 inherently leads to level 4. That would obviously be false.”
When the pyramid was presented at the seminar, the text at the bottom was not visible. However, Loadenthal’s notes visible on the screen of the slideshow to the right of the image provide an abbreviated version of the text.
“So today we’re talking about the modern far-right, which depending on who you ask, can include things as mundane as the Heritage Foundation, all the way up to underground cells of militants,” the on-screen text reads. “I like the use of this 4-part taxonomy, although I disagree with some of the groups’ placements.”
Loadenthal also noted that he did not create the pyramid, telling Fox News Digital that he believes it was authored around 2018 — the upper left corner attributes the image to two scholars, McCauley and Moslalenko. “I found it a helpful conceptual scaffolding and used it,” he said.
The MRC report noted that at the same seminar, another speaker, Alexander Hinton, a member of the Rutgers University faculty who specializes in genocide, compared the Trump administration to the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge of Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia killed an estimated 1.5 million-2 million people from 1975-79.
A third speaker — Nicole Widdersheim, deputy Washington director for Human Rights Watch and former senior policy adviser to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Center — compared Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis proposing a volunteer civilian military force to assist the National Guard in emergencies such as hurricanes to the Nazis’ Holocaust during World War II.
A DHS official — Joseph Masztalics, a regional prevention coordinator at the Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships, of which TVTP is a part — was another speaker and appeared virtually in his official capacity at the event to deliver a short presentation about the center’s mission and resources.
According to DHS, the University of Dayton was not a TVTP grantee at the time of the seminar and received a grant the following year — when the department was already aware of what was presented at the event. A DHS spokesperson told Fox News Digital that the award was unrelated to the seminar and rejected the notion that it supports any form of discrimination.
“This seminar was not funded, organized, or hosted by the Department of Homeland Security,” the spokesperson said. “Similarly, the presented chart was not developed, presented, or endorsed by the Department of Homeland Security, and was not part of any successful grant application to the Department of Homeland Security. DHS does not profile, target, or discriminate against any individual for exercising their constitutional rights protected by the First Amendment.”
The University of Dayton similarly described the seminar as being separate from the PREVENTS-OH program.
“The speakers at the programs referred to in the Media Research Center’s report are from the University of Dayton Human Rights Center’s Social Practice of Human Rights Conference in the fall of 2021, which had no affiliation with and predates PREVENTS-OH,” the university told Fox News Digital in a statement. “The University of Dayton Human Rights Center received its PREVENTS-OH grant in the fall of 2022 and, to date, its community awareness events and dialogues have focused on all forms of domestic terrorism, targeted violence, and extremism. As we stated when awarded the grant, ‘We look forward to partnering with Ohioans throughout the Miami Valley across all political and social affiliations and sectors of the community.'”
The school did not note its inclusion of the seminar in its grant application.
“Extremism, Rhetoric, and Democratic Precarity” wasn’t the only controversial conference conducted by the University of Dayton. Indeed, at a separate seminar titled “White Natioanlism Workshop,” Loadenthal also spoke and explained how “antifascists” could “pressure” financial services, retailers, service providers, and various platforms to “kick people off,” promoting the “de-platforming” of alleged fascists who he compared to the mainstream political right.
“A lot of things we’re doing are illegal,” he said. “A lot of it involves breaking the law.”
Loadenthal also described hate speech as an act of war, calling it the “strategic deployment of organizational energy and power,” and called for shutting down forces deemed extremist.
“To deny people that, to shut down their websites, to close their meetings, [and] to physically prevent them from assembling in public — this is the belief,” he said, also displaying an infographic of how “antifascists” can “infiltrate,” “surveil,” and “disrupt” far-right forces.
Loadenthal additionally noted that in his “younger years,” he engaged in “direct confrontation” with alleged white supremacists, seemingly describing himself as a member of Antifa.
“We organized largely through networks — today people would call Antifa, at the time it was known as anti-racist action — to follow white supremacists where they go, to outnumber them, and then to physically confront them and deny them the space to physically meet in public,” he said. “This is the idea of de-platforming. I worked in that realm for a long time.”
Loadenthal, who added that at the time he was also a medical worker who provided “abortion services,” has frequently retweeted Antifa accounts and appeared to defend left-wing violence on social media.
At the same event, University of Dayton Professor Paul Becker displayed images of anti-COVID lockdown and anti-vaccine mandate protesters, suggesting they were infiltrated by hate groups.
In order to promote its work to the city of Dayton, PREVENTS-OH sent the city an image, named Anti-Rights Movements and Democratic Regression, featuring a caricature of a Second Amendment supporter above the words “Why do we have a radicalized society.”
The MRC described its findings in a new letter sent to Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of both the House Judiciary Committee and the newly established Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. The letter from Bozell called for an investigation and “criminal prosecution” while asking to meet with Jordan to discuss the DHS documents.
The first version of the TVTP was created by the Obama administration, which in 2011 unveiled a plan titled “Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States” to give taxpayer-funded grants to local groups — including police departments, universities, and non-profits — to prevent domestic “violent extremism.” The first grants weren’t rolled out until 2016 in the “Countering Violent Extremism Grant Program.”
The Trump administration halted the program for three years before DHS resurrected it in 2019 through the newly launched Office of Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention. DHS officials had reportedly circumvented the White House to seek congressional funds for the program.
In August 2020, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden vowed to “end the Trump administration’s Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention Program” and replace it with his own. Once in office, Biden and his secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, replaced the Office for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention with the new Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships (CP3), of which TVTP is a part. According to a DHS press release from the time, “the creation of CP3 [is] … [among] the latest actions DHS is taking under Secretary Mayorkas’ leadership to comprehensively combat domestic violent extremism, including violent white supremacy.”
The majority of TVTP grants, 52%, have gone to public institutions like universities and county governments, while 48% have gone to private organizations, such as the University of Dayton and the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Out Boulder County.
According to the MRC, DHS has resisted producing documents pursuant to its FOIA requests to date, but the watchdog has acquired numerous documents directly from DHS grant recipients and other related organizations.
TVTP was very much on the radar of DHS leadership. Indeed, Mayorkas called the program a “high priority” in a document obtained by the MRC.
“Secretary Mayorkas thanked the grantees for their work, and he reassured all in attendance that this program is a priority for the department and that the work being done is of the highest importance,” the Maryland Department of Emergency Management wrote in its notes and documentation of the 2022 TVTP Grantee Symposium, which Mayorkas hosted.
The MRC report comes amid calls for Mayorkas to resign due to his handling of the ongoing crisis at the country’s southern border. Several Republican lawmakers have pushed the idea of impeaching him for allegedly neglecting his duties.
The report also comes amid outcry over the findings of Special Counsel John Durham, who had been investigating the FBI’s original Trump-Russia probe — another instance of critics accusing a federal government agency of mobilizing against a political opponent.
Last week, Special Counsel John Durham released a final report on his investigation into the original probe concerning whether former President Donald Trump and his campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. Durham found that there was never any information to justify opening the FBI’s investigation and that the bureau and the Department of Justice “failed to uphold their mission of strict fidelity to the law.”
The MRC argued in its report that TVTP grants are just the latest example of the Biden administration using taxpayer dollars to attack political opponents, citing DHS’s now-defunct and much-maligned Disinformation Governance Board and the FBI reportedly targeting parents with anti-terrorism tools.
To conclude its report, the Media Research Center noted it obtained documents for several other TVTP grantees allegedly showing DHS funding efforts to targe and demonize political opponents of the Biden administration.